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June 1999 Issue
Dehydrating to Save Time...and Leftovers
by Ronda L. Halpin
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There are some times when you are in the land of leftovers and you can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. One example that comes to mind is the end of August when all I can see for miles are tomatoes! When you have more than you can handle, it becomes necessary to take special steps to preserve the food that you cannot consume in a reasonable time.

Now, some people pile freezers past capacity, but if you are running low on freezer space there is another option for you: dehydrating. By dehydrating items like carrots, apples, tomatoes or bananas for another day, you save space and time when it comes to using them again.

Dehydrating is the process of removing the liquid from an item. Most commercial dehydrators accomplish this by running warm air through a series of trays until evaporation has done its job.

You are left with a product that can be stored in a dry environment and can often be reconstituted easily with the addition of water. Of course, some items dehydrate better than others and some items work well if they are not reconstituted -- like banana chips.

I have been known to dehydrate potatoes, celery, carrots, beans and other vegetables to make instant soup mixes. All you need to do is add you favorite seasonings and hot water. It's also easy to take dried apples, add hot water and blend in a blender for a few seconds to make instant applesauce! This one can come in handy when you want to serve applesauce with pork chops or the like.

My favorite products to dehydrate tend to be fruits. Banana chips are hard to beat -- especially if they were dipped in maple syrup before being dehydrated! Apples are an all-time favorite. An unlikely favorite has been strawberries. They are terrific as a dried snack, but they also work well reconstituted and poured over ice cream.

Of course, my husband's favorite has to be dried tomatoes. He'll take a few to work and munch on them right out of the bag! They also work wonders on a homemade pizza.

While I tend to limit most of my dehydrating to fruits and vegetables, there are other dehydrating options out there. If you find yourself with extra beef on your hands, beef jerky can be made using a higher heat setting and a good seasoning rub or marinade. Try to avoid fatty cuts of meat and always cut against the grain of the meat when preparing it. Otherwise, you might end up with jerky that's just too tough to chew.

I also dehydrate herbs from my garden when it's producing more than I can use. Try to avoid dehydrating several different kinds of herbs at the same time -- you might mingle their aromas too much!

Finally, I also use my dehydrator to dry flowers for arrangements and memory books. It does the same thing as hanging them and letting them air dry -- it just does it faster!

So, the next time you find yourself in overwhelm in the land of leftovers, remember that dehydrating can often be an option. Good luck!

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